dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

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How Much Surveillance Will We Accept?

October 17th, 2021 by dk
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How do you feel about being spied on? How much surveillance are we willing to accept, in return for safety, savings and simplicity? Most of us have at least one clear line. We won’t accept a surveillance state, but what about when the surveillance isn’t connected to the state?

We accepted an extra card swipe at the grocery store because we were assured that the software was looking only for generalized patterns and receipts came with specialized coupons.

If you sell anything online in any sort of marketplace, your success is at the mercy of an invisible ranking algorithm which determines where your wares appear on potential customers’ search results. We’re becoming increasingly aware of the detailed dossiers being assembled about us, tracking all our moves online and then shaping our online experience.

But what about when we’re not staring at a screen? We tut-tut the Chinese government for using facial and gait-recognition software to track its citizens, assigning everyone a “Social Credit Score” to shape and shame behaviors. We marvel that Singapore managed its coronavirus containment with a contact-tracing phone app that was required for travelers.

We see ourselves differently — cowboys free on our range, following our bliss wherever it leads. Well, that rubber is beginning to meet that road.

Tesla announced this week that their most complete self-driving capabilities will be made available only to drivers who have earned a perfect driving score by the onboard monitoring software. Should we still call it “gamify” when it can directly affect our life and livelihood?

Tesla drivers are graded on five criteria. (To the company’s credit, this is not hidden.) Hard braking, aggressive turning, unsafe following, forward collision warnings and automatic deactivations of Autopilot each earns the driver a demerit. One sudden braking incident — even in self-defense — means you’ll have to wait longer for a software upgrade.

Let’s be clear what the company is doing here. Rather than pay professional drivers to navigate an obstacle course with the new software loaded, Tesla is sending the software to its (supposedly) safest drivers to do the beta testing for them. It’s like building a new maze but testing it only on your best cheese-sniffing rats.

Most of this isn’t new but a bit of it is. We’ve allowed banks, landlords, utility companies and car dealers to give their business only to those with the best credit rating. Our insurance rates increase if we get speeding tickets.

This new tracking is accumulated in real time and to minute detail. Tesla will use the data collected to define “safe driving.” The beta testers are “teaching” the algorithm what safe driving means. Anyone who doesn’t measure up may be denied future upgrades.

If you continue to drive a jalopy without onboard surveillance, you can still enjoy the freedom of the open road, right? Not so fast, Cowboy! It won’t take much to teach these smart cars to “tattle” on others.

This brings me back to my starting point. How much of this are we willing to accept? Developers aren’t waiting while we ponder our response.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Let’s Bring Back Football Innovation

October 15th, 2021 by dk
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Most years around this time, I write a column about football. The response is unusually positive. Many readers are positive I shouldn’t be writing about sports. Fair enough, but the success of Ducks athletics has undeniably changed this place we call home.

I wrote in favor of garish uniform colors, if they attract more stellar high school athletes. I wrote against Robo-Duck because you don’t want your mascot looking better than your athletes. I supported Chip Kelly’s obsession with two-point conversions, suggesting we market the team’s aggressive strategy as “two-buck Ducks.”

I suggested the University of Oregon solve the Portland controversy they created when they wanted to change the iconic sign atop the White Stag Sugar Co. building by simply changing our team name from Ducks to White Stags.

And do you want to know why the Duck helmets were redesigned with the “O” in the center on the back? Maybe because I pointed out that chin straps were invading the trademark “O” on the sides, making it look like a “Q.” (You’re welcome.)

Local football fans are wondering whether an SEC lineman who became the best recruiter in the country can ever coach quarterbacks to their full potential. Watching home-grown Justin Herbert on Sundays makes us wonder how much of that talent went untapped under Head Coach Mario Cristobal.

We know we have three stellar freshman recruits waiting for their chance to succeed sixth-year senior quarterback Anthony Brown. And we know that one thing Brown hasn’t done much of this season is succeed. Brown’s penchant for running the ball won one game and probably lost one.

His legs have been a bigger threat than his arm. Defenses are learning to dare him to hit his speedy and talented receivers running deep patterns, because he can’t. Cristobal wants a run-first offense, not a run-only offense. (Short-route receivers gain most of their yards after their catches.) And now, Travis Dye has lost his (literal) running mate to injury.

It’s time for some innovative thinking that will confound opposing coaches. Play with two quarterbacks, veteran Brown and the best of the three young guns. Alternating quarterbacks is not a new idea, but I’m suggesting two quarterbacks take the field simultaneously — a continuous wildcat formation.

Hiking the ball directly to a runner — wildcat — reduces the defense’s reaction time by approximately 1.5 seconds with no handoff required. Which quarterback will receive the snap? Brown will get the ball in running situations. Ty Thompson or one of his sharpshooting cohorts when vertical passing is needed. Either can  handle short passes or option plays.

This new wrinkle will be on-brand for the Oregon Ducks. Chip Kelly introduced the fast break offense to football here, disrupting the sacrosanct rhythm between plays. Eliminating a second or two after the ball is hiked is more of the same. Only the offense will know which quarterback is receiving the hike.

This instant misdirection will make the Ducks look more like mythical White Stags. Wouldn’t the next Justin Herbert want to play for a team like that?

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Masks Could Offer Promotion Opportunities

October 15th, 2021 by dk
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Our never-ending mask hysteria has convinced me that we’re doing it wrong. We’d rather fight one another than join in common cause against the virus. If only we had admitted that from the start, thousands of lives could have been saved.

We were told from the start that wearing masks would save lives. We quickly sorted ourselves into those who were willing to obey edicts from experts and those who would rather do their own “research.”

Bare-faced “researchers” became heroic symbols of personal freedom — like riding a motorcycle without a helmet, eschewing seatbelts, eating undercooked beef, or urinating in the cereal aisle at grocery store with no public bathroom. Freedom is as freedom does!

You might argue that protecting yourself and others is more important than wantonly exercising freedom whenever and wherever the urge strikes. But protection isn’t important to Americans. Protection matters to those sissies in Europe. They’re the ones who didn’t get on a boat to bring forth a new nation. They stayed home where everything was safe and protected.

Speaking of missing the boat, we told Americans the wrong story about masks from the start. Americans care less about protection than about promotion. We should have sold masks as bumper stickers for the face. We wear our hearts on our sleeves, so why not speak our minds on our mouths?

Recognizing our entrenched tribalism, political parties should have churned out red and blue (and green) masks for their supporters to wear. Corporations would have quickly gotten into the act. Every large company loves a promotional campaign that will be in — or at least on — your face.

Imagine what clever messaging could be sold to customers with every purchase. I said once that bicycle commuting would gain popularity in Eugene if bikes had more bumper sticker space. I once tried encouraging neighbors to place bumper stickers on their curbside trash containers. I never considered we could add messaging to our actual faces!

We wear brand names across our chests and think nothing of it. Girls wear sweatpants with brand names emblazoned across their backsides. Football fans wear team logo decals on their (other) cheeks on Game Day. Are you telling me these Americans wouldn’t gladly plaster something across their face? Of course they would.

Remember when Market of Choice upset many when they deemed “Black Lives Matter” as too political to be worn by its workers? They all wear Market of Choice shirts. Surely they could fit “Food for the way you live”® on masks provided to every employee.

Here Comes Trudy in Springfield made headlines by refusing to obey Oregon mask mandates. They could have gotten the same satisfaction on a mask instead of without one. Something like: “I’m wearing this mask in case Gov. Brown can read lips.” See how easy this could have been?

Mask wearers are sometimes accused of virtue-signaling. Why leave these things open to interpretation? Whole Foods could be selling masks that say, “I’m better than you.” Americans love fighting words! This better solution could have been under (or over) our noses all along.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Facebook Has Weakened Us

October 7th, 2021 by dk
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Facebook and Instagram went dark for several hours on Monday, giving us a chance to imagine our lives without ubiquitous social media. Did you enjoy it? Did you panic? Maybe you didn’t notice the outage at all. Those three responses sum up society today.

Was it a pure coincidence that the sites went down just hours after Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee turned whistleblower, was interviewed on 60 Minutes? She pleaded for people over profits and then poof!

I blame Mark Zuckerberg for the fragility in today’s young people and also the sense of entitlement that is spreading across our culture. Nothing new there, except this. I’m less concerned with the enveloping ecosphere Facebook has become than with what Zuckerberg thought he was building from his Harvard dorm room in 2004.

The Facebook was originally conceived as a dating site. So was Youtube, by the way. Our society has been shaped by what teenage boys fantasized about. Maybe societies have always been shaped the same way. Facebook and Youtube have grown to unimaginable  scale, but hundreds of sites continue to start where these two began.

Dating sites always solve the same “problem.” Their business models differ widely, but they always offer a voyeur’s dream. You can see who is “available” without risking rejection. Zuckerberg’s original idea was to assign a rating to each face, producing a user’s own private book of faces — their own face book.

It quickly became apparent that these instant judgments could be done more instantly. Swipe right to accept; swipe left to reject — all anonymously. Only after two people have each approved of the other is the connection revealed and facilitated.

We know Facebook today as a place where people share their moral, societal, and political imperatives. But the engine that started it all was deeper. It was the biological imperative to find a mate, but without the pain that comes from rejection. You can see why this is an attractive option for users. But stay with me here.

Rejection hurts us, but it doesn’t harm us. In fact, it strengthens us. Every survived snub gives us important information — first and foremost, that it didn’t kill us. Positive connections are more meaningful because the fear of rejection was the cost of engagement. Overcoming that fear makes us hardier, individually and collectively.

Every digitally arranged marriage tests the wisdom of the algorithm, but the partners are never tested. They’ve taken fewer risks. They don’t know what it takes to survive. They are like farm-raised salmon, losing their instincts to spawn and return, whatever the cost. Protections have made them safer, but also more fragile.

I’m not sure you can teach creatures that rejection is not a mortal blow after their spawning urge has subsided. Only that biological imperative (aided by social pressure) makes that risk worth taking. We may be losing an entire generation of wild caught creatures, all to fulfill a 19-year-old boy’s dorm room fantasy.

Talk to those who might not accept you. When rejection stops feeling like death, you’ve accomplished something for yourself and for society.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Traffic Comes to Eugene

October 1st, 2021 by dk
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Last week was different. I exited Trader Joe’s after my monthly provisions run. Southbound traffic was backed up to P.F. Chang’s. As we inched up the Ferry Street Bridge, I saw traffic snarled to Franklin Boulevard and beyond.

We’ve had traffic jams in Eugene before. We know when to avoid Delta Highway. Duck games can slow I-5 from Salem to Roseburg. But this was different. Slowdowns usually point to one of three things ahead: construction, collision, or crime.

You could argue that the backup on Franklin (which extended to I-5 on the opposite end) was the result of all three. Construction did narrow the options (if not the pavement) in a couple of places. If true, it was criminal that the university had only two working computers to check in thousands of students on move-in day.

Mostly it was a collision — between Eugene’s past and future. A short stretch of Franklin will soon have four very large apartment buildings. Hotels are multiplying. Glenwood envisions a large complex near the Springfield Bridge. If and when all those people want to drive somewhere, things are going to slow down everywhere.

We’ve all sensed our area getting more crowded. Some of us enjoy the expanding options. Nobody wants to be stuck in traffic. We may no longer be in the middle of nowhere, but we still enjoy being able to hike there from here. We’ll never see the tangled spaghetti of California’s freeways, but is there a path forward that won’t take forever? Yes, I think so.

When I could see there was no relief in sight, I exited near the old EWEB headquarters and snaked my way through downtown. I reached south Eugene on Willamette Street, now running north and south without interruption from the Hult Center. The work is not yet finished, but it’s already more intuitive and inviting.

Most of the improvements are in concrete, not asphalt, so they will last three times as long. The sidewalk lighting is built to human proportions. This subtle decision declares designers’ ambition that it become a “complete street,” functional for motorists but welcoming for pedestrians and bicyclists.

This ribbon of road has always separated our east from west. It’s once again a straight line, recreating our history. Civic Stadium is at the approximate midpoint of its paved past. The first incarnations of our university and our hospital were near that central knoll. Across the street from Civic, there’s a mural portrait of Wiley Griffon, streetcar driver in the 1890s. The car was pulled by a mule and later electrified. Rides cost a nickel.

Maybe we’ll get another trolley tracing Eugene’s original artery back to its origins. Will there ever be an updated version of “dragging the gut,” which marked Eugene’s coming of age in the 1950s? Streets connect Point A to Point B, but they can also connect what is with what was.

If Willamette Street succeeds, we might glimpse ourselves in the rear view mirror. As a vision for our future, we could do worse — especially if we’re in no hurry to get there.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Majorities May Have to Suffice

September 30th, 2021 by dk
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I’m not a big fan of majorities. I typically don’t trust them. I believe they have shown they can’t be trusted. I’ve always stayed away from the clapper on the bell curve. Groupthink is anything but.

Outliers often have more interesting ideas. They always have better stories. Maybe it’s because I’m a lifelong Cubs fan, but I’ve always found losers easier to care about, figuring the winners have shown they can fend for themselves.

Our Founding Fathers feared “the tyranny of the majority”. They devoted themselves to a document that articulated their vision. If life is an exercise of Rock-Paper-Scissors, they changed the rules. Paper always wins.

Our constitutional republic uses majorities sparingly and carefully. We, the self-governed, consent to be guided by those same founding principles, not by the will of the majority. History has shown majorities incapable of sustaining any long-term project — like bringing forth a new nation. Engaging the minority has been our “secret sauce,” making us resilient and respected.

A quick story tells the tale. My college roommate’s first solo assignment as a college professor was to lead some students on a weeklong educational tour. One morning they had a choice. They could hike up the hillside or down to the river. They voted. It was close. “Majority rules!” the winners declared.

“Yes, that’s how democracy works,” their teacher intoned. “Now let’s move on from democracy to civilization.” He kept both sides engaged. They soon found a compromise that worked for nearly everyone. My roommate’s career as an educator was underway.

Supermajorities are sprinkled across our governing systems. Compromise serves us well. The Electoral College and the Senate’s filibuster have roots in racism, but they were born in a day when racists were needed to get anything done. We rely on our judicial system to say when those expediencies reach their end.

Sometimes majorities must rule, just to get us through a tight spot. Civil War victory required no supermajority. (Maybe it should have. We continue fighting over similar issues.) The through-line has always been good will and common cause between all sides. Without that, governance devolves into gamesmanship, spectacle and obstruction.

We may soon have no choice but to blow up our whole system and start over. The French have done this several times. Other democracies have endured complete makeovers. We’ve been spared that so far.

Good will can no longer be assumed. Republicans in Salem have foiled the supermajority quorum requirement seven times in the last three years. Republicans in Washington intend to let the federal government grind to a halt altogether.

The minority cynically courts a crisis: “Last one out: turn off the lights and throw away the pizza boxes.” Maybe the darkness will enlighten. We may have to change the rules for a while, eliminating supermajorities altogether until we can call a Constitutional Convention to draft a document that inspires everyone again.

No quorum-busting walk-outs by either side. No nihilistic obstructionism allowed. We may be forced to resort to pure democracy — majority rules! — only until we can find our way back to civilization.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Tolerating Intolerance

September 24th, 2021 by dk
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You probably think of yourself as a tolerant person. I know I do. Most of us believe we are enlightened, modern beings — embracing differences, celebrating diversity. If anything, we worry (others certainly do worry) that we’ve become too tolerant and may be guilty of enabling antisocial behaviors. We believe tolerance is always better than intolerance.

In belated praise for last weekend’s downpour, I’m going to rain on that parade.

Tolerance has a different meaning to engineers. A car door doesn’t requiring slamming if it is designed, manufactured, and maintained to specified tolerances. If the hinges weaken or the body gets bent, the door may sag and not fit so neatly into the space. The car could have been designed to accommodate more tolerance, but then it would leak water or noise and we can’t have that.

That’s when the slamming begins, and nobody likes slamming. Slamming follows increased tolerances.

Speaking of slamming doors behind you, I remember the day I decided I was going to like school. We were given a cookie and a tiny carton of milk. Our teacher had to demonstrate how to open the carton, pulling a fold apart from beneath with two thumbs, then pressing the carton together at the seam to produce a perfectly designed spout. “Wow,” I thought, “I just learned something useful. This is cool.”

Milk cartons are still designed the same way, but now they have plastic screw caps embedded in the waxed cardboard container. Do you know why? Spreading the glue to close the carton required too much precision. Too much glue and folding wouldn’t neatly open it. Too little glue and it might not stay sealed during transit. It was cheaper to add the plastic cap. Customers no longer tolerate clumsily unfolded origami spouts, genius of design notwithstanding.

Efficiency and economy are fundamentally intolerant.

Ah, but that involves things. We treat people differently. It’s not so easy to keep a distinction between the two. We love low prices, but they almost always come at a human cost. Supply-chain efficiency reduces redundancies, producing higher profits, lower prices but also shortages if any link in that supply chain is disrupted.

Unless all your purchases are with Saturday Market vendors, you will inevitably be rewarding a low bidder who does not tolerate human self-expression.

Amazon built its juggernaut by enforcing tighter and tighter standards, by becoming more and more intolerant of any diversity. We love the convenience of nearly instant delivery. That efficiency flows from a steady stream of intolerances. 

Suppliers must adhere to strict deadlines and procedures. Sorters cannot take unscheduled bathroom breaks. Even Amazon’s branded delivery drivers are surveilled for any driving diversions. People are logistical variables. They are sometimes unevenly glued.

I’ve never lived among people who consider themselves so tolerant. I’ve also never encountered more people who are lactose intolerant or gluten intolerant. It’s as if the body will tolerate only so much tolerance before some sort of somatic symmetry expresses itself.

Tolerating intolerance is tricky business. Modernity is enveloped in its efficiencies. Unfolding that carton takes great care. It won’t always be tidy.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Despairing for Democracy

September 23rd, 2021 by dk
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I’m beginning to despair for democracy, at least the style of it that we’ve practiced for the last century. It doesn’t move fast enough to keep pace with the ever-accelerating attitude and appetite of most Americans. The regulatory state has made it impossible to deliver tangible change quickly enough for elected officials to get credit for their work.

Any policy changes legislated today will undoubtedly be slow to be implemented, quick to be challenged in court, and sure to be obfuscated by political challengers. Good governance almost never produced effective sound bites, but that didn’t matter when an incumbent started with the benefit of the doubt.

It’s different today. There are many causes. Politics has become nationalized and popularized. Campaigns are more ruthless. Social media makes everything worse.

Which party has abdicated its public trust depends almost entirely on which side makes sense to you. I personally see the Republicans as nihilistic, anarchists working from the inside. Others see it differently. I acknowledge that and I do my best to respect the difference.

That respect, or my attempt thereto, should not be confused with equivalence. The false equivalence peddled by media has practically created the problem we’re facing today. Republicans have used the rhetorical habit of equivalence to legitimize increasingly radical policies and practices in pursuit of power.

I don’t see Democrats matching them, or even wanting to. Call Democrats principled statespeople or call them wimps or call them  small-d democrats. The result is the same. Democrats can’t make any change happen quickly enough for voters to feel satisfied. Republicans shamelessly promise things with no coherent plan for accomplishing them. 

The electorate is constantly dissatisfied, compulsively looking for a change. Voters no longer recognize or value competence in either party.

Sometime in the next month, the federal government will run out of money. Republicans have refused to lift the debt ceiling because they have every intention of blaming Democrats for wild spending sprees, ignoring their own. If the government shuts down, Republicans will blame Democrats for failing to govern.

I see only one way out for Democrats, but it will take more stomach than they’ve shown and it might not work. If they refuse to cave and let the government shut down and then default on its credit, maybe that will convince Manchin and Sinema to dispose of the Senate filibuster altogether.

The pain will be substantial. Credit ratings will be lowered. Financing our debt will be more expensive. International prestige and trust will be lost. Democrats will  rightly determine it’s not worth it — Republicans are counting on that — unless they use their filibusterless Senate to quickly assert the rules of law and majorities across the nation.

Voting rights must be restored and guaranteed. Elections must be shielded from partisan meddling. We may need term limits for court justices. The electoral college may have outlived its usefulness. Puerto Rico and Washington DC deserve to be states.

I don’t see Democrats using their majorities to punish their opponents, but I also don’t see any other way that their ideals can prevail against these Republicans.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Redistricting Needs Revised Rules

September 17th, 2021 by dk
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Oregon Governor Kate Brown has called lawmakers back to Salem on Monday for a special session to deal with redistricting. The Legislature must submit state and federal district maps by Sept. 27. Time is of the essence.

ORS 188.010 delineates five criteria to be used when redrawing the districts, and two that cannot be used. Unfortunately, the guiding statute mixes factors that are quantitative with others that are qualitative. No one can argue with the first set and no one will agree with the second set.

Legislators should be more specific about their considerations than the law requires. Take the first criterion, for example. Each districts must contain the same number of people. It’s very unlikely that the districts will be exactly equivalent. How close must they be? The law’s language — “as nearly as practicable” — is no help. Legislators should specify in advance the maximum deviation they will consider.

The second criteria will attract no debate, but it should. (More on that later.) Each district must be contiguous. Once inside the district, you should be able to get anywhere else in the district without stepping outside it. Third, district boundaries should maintain transportation links, which foreshadows the difficulty to be faced with the fourth and fifth factors.

Legislative boundaries must not divide communities of common interest or be designed to dilute the voting strength of any “language or ethnic minority group.” Good luck finding any agreement between Democrats and Republicans on how this factor should be interpreted or measured. It gets worse.

The final standard to be upheld (and its accompanying prohibition) is the most fraught of all. District boundaries should utilize existing geographic or political boundaries. And yet they cannot be drawn for the purpose of favoring a political party or incumbent. Got that? Utilize political boundaries; don’t favor any political party.

It pains me to say this, but we need fewer English majors and more math nerds writing these rules. “Political boundaries,” “communities of common interest,” and even “transportation links” become terms of art once deliberation begins.

Thankfully, ORS 188.010 does not limit the process to this handful of factors. Lawmakers are free to adopt others as well, especially if they serve to better define the standards listed above. How about adding two more that will enhance the second and third criteria?

We know from generations of gerrymandering that all districts are contiguous, but some are more contiguous than others. To keep districts as compact as possible, each plan should calculate the length of each boundary’s perimeter. Add all the perimeter lengths together and favor the plan with the lowest number.

Transportation links served a useful purpose before citizens communicated primarily without roads or even wires.”Who is my neighbor?” is once again open for discussion. The factor is still worth considering if it can be measured indisputably. I suggest using Google Maps to calculate the longest timed walk between two points inside each district.

As with perimeter lengths, aggregating the maximum cross-district walk times will allow decision-makers to compare redistricting plans. Which proposed map makes the most sense on the ground, literally?

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Customer Service Actuaries Needed

September 16th, 2021 by dk
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An unprecedented number of young people are considering — or reconsidering — their career paths. Many have graduated but haven’t found an employment field that will lure them out of their parents’ basement. Even more — 40 percent of young professionals, by one count — say that COVID-19 has them reconsidering their employment future.

To these young people, I make this plea. Consider becoming a Customer Service Actuary. Don’t bother searching for this job title. Companies are not yet looking for people with these skills, but they should be. Get hired as a Customer Service Actuary and you’ll be a hero!

How many times have you been placed on hold with a message that sounds like this one? “We’re experiencing a higher than expected call volume, which may prolong your wait time. We appreciate your patience as we service other customers.” Yesterday, I was told at my local pharmacy that they were still backed up because of last week’s holiday.

Young people increasingly want jobs that make a tangible difference in people’s lives. What could be more satisfying than helping companies figure out that a holiday will reduce the number of workdays in that week by 14.29 – 20 percent? If demand for prescriptions remains unchanged, a staffing increase will be required to maintain a steady workflow.

The math isn’t difficult. I did it for you (and for the prescription counter) in the paragraph above. Simply estimate the amount of calls likely to be placed. Divide that by the acceptable wait time for each and Voilå! You’ve estimated how many service reps will be necessary to handle the expected volume. Fewer frustrated customers, less bedraggled employees, one company hero.

Careers like this one tend to swing like a pendulum between English majors and math majors. After World War II, English majors made a good living writing different versions of “New & Improved” on all consumer products.

Then came desktop computing and that label space became devoted to “33% more” or “Large for the price of Medium!” Math majors held sway and English majors fell away.

(True story. I noted that transition in 1994. That column got picked up by a newspaper in Alabama. A colleague of my brother at NASA saw it. My brother mailed me a copy for my birthday so we were both surprised.)

The pendulum eventually swung back. English majors found themselves again in demand, crafting evermore creative apologies for when company policies are working as intended. “We apologize for any inconvenience” sounded so much better than “We decided we’d rather have you wait than the people we’re paying.”

We’ve now reached the apex of apologies. Companies are no longer apologizing for their policies. They claim to be embarrassed about all those other customers who got in line before you! Eventually people tire of apologies — even nearly perfect ones. An opportunity for number-crunchers is emerging.

If this sounds like a career you would consider satisfying, call your favorite company today and offer your services. If they put you on hold because of higher-than-anticipated call volume, they’re really telling you they need your Customer Service Actuary services today!

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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